Read ‘The Untethered Soul’, by Michael Singer. Got the audio version, too, listened to it on my way back and forth to work, and it took me a while to come to terms with it.
For about the first third, this book is very impressive, it’s the sort of work that can ignite your mind and challenge your unexamined assumptions and Singer deserves credit for his dissection of consciousness and the roots of being, but right after that, out comes the Kool-Aid, and if you drink it, you are lost.
Singer’s answer to every problem in life is ‘Relax. Let it go.’ I mean, every problem. In my experience, let it go (in addition to being an annoying song) is a good and valid approach in two situations. First, if you have old and treasured resentments, and face it, who doesn’t, they are deep down inside you, hard at work poisoning your current endeavors and letting go of them is absolutely the right approach, if not quite that simple. First you have to be fearless and honest enough enough to acknowledge them for what they are, and that is not easy because they are most often and most effectively disguised in layers of denial. Then, once you’ve unearthed them and stripped them naked, you still have to pull their teeth so they can’t hurt you any more, and you might need a good therapist to help you with that. And third, you have to accept the fact that you can never do those first two steps perfectly. It’s like breaking a knee: yeah, you can heal, and you can walk again, but you’re going to have a limp, even if you are the only person who perceives it, and it is going to hurt from time to time. You have to learn to live with it.
Second, letting go is valid when you are dealing with things that are beyond your control, and that is a huge category. Traffic, politics, death… Let go, don’t drive yourself nuts. As a writer it is particularly important for me to let go of what happens to something once I’ve finished it because being too invested in outcomes will not change them even a tiny bit. I can and should do everything in my power to make my work as good as I am capable, right up to the point where it goes into the mail, and then I need to let go of it and move on to the next thing.
There are plenty of situations in life where ‘let it go’ is a spectacularly unhelpful bit of advice. As opposed to simply a coping mechanism, ‘Let it go’ as a philosophy is probably rooted in some very old religious ideas, reincarnation and samsara. In my opinion, these things have to be considered in context. Both of them originated in an age where human life was brutal, unpredictable and short, where children often did not receive names until they were one or two years of age because they often did not survive that long, and where women routinely died in childbirth. The concepts of reincarnation and samsara evolved as ways of coming to terms with life as it was then, but that does not make them any more than abstract modes of thought which make it possible for survivors to hang on to their humanity in the face of harsh realities. It is not Singer’s fault that these ideas fossilized into religious tenets, but to make universal application of them now, particularly in the face of the complete lack of any evidence supporting their central thesis is flawed thinking, irresponsible, and silly.
Again, an example:
If you’re addicted to smoking, so says Singer, just let it go. If you don’t pick up another cigarette, you won’t smoke.
Give me a fucking break.
That statement, while superficially factual, is complete bullshit. If you are an addict and you wish to recover from your addiction, no matter what it is, you are going to need a whole hell of a lot more than ‘Let it go.’ In some situations, you better grab on, sucka, you better fight back with everything you’ve got, you better kick some ass or you will not survive.
When pursued by a bear, ‘Let it go’ will not help you.